‘News Briefs’ Archive
Since 2009, hundreds and possibly thousands of refugees, most of them Eritrean, have been kidnapped in eastern Sudan and sold to traffickers in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where they are held and tortured until their relatives can raise tens of thousands of dollars in ransom money. According to a report released on 11 February by Human Rights Watch (HRW), security forces in Sudan and Egypt have either turned a blind eye to this violent trade in men, women and children or, in some cases, colluded with the traffickers. The 79-page report documents the kidnapping and torture of victims, and describes how Sudanese and Egyptian security officers facilitated abductions by traffickers, or failed to take action against them.
HRW alleges that at Sudan’s eastern border with Eritrea, near the town of Kassala, police and border guards regularly intercept Eritrean refugees and hand them over to traffickers, while security officials allow traffickers and their victims to pass through checkpoints between Sudan and Egypt’s Suez Canal. “When the authorities fail to tackle traffickers or help them, it’s not just a criminal law enforcement issue, it becomes a human rights issue,” Gerry Simpson, a senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch and the report’s author, told IRIN. “The [Sudanese and Egyptian] states have been wilfully turning a blind eye to massive criminal activity at best and at worst are actively supporting some of it.”
Smugglers become traffickers
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says 300,000 Eritreans had sought asylum outside their country by the beginning of 2013. The majority left after 2004, fleeing widespread human rights abuses, including mandatory and indefinite military service, arbitrary arrest and detention, and severe restrictions on freedom of expression and movement. Most leave without the exit permits required by Eritrean law, risking severe punishment if they are caught. In the last decade, tens of thousands have registered as refugees at camps in eastern Sudan and Ethiopia, but most have quickly moved on in search of better conditions and opportunities.
Between 2006 and 2012, many hired smugglers to help them reach Israel via Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Around 2009, reports began to surface of smugglers turning on their clients during the journey through Sinai, and holding them in torture camps while they extorted increasingly large sums of money from desperate relatives. By the end of 2010, Sudanese traffickers were kidnapping Eritreans in or near eastern Sudan’s refugee camps and selling them to Egyptian traffickers operating in Sinai. Most victims said they never intended to go to Egypt or Israel. A report published in December 2013 by three human rights activists and researchers estimated that between 2009 and 2013, as many as 30,000 people were victims of trafficking and torture in the Sinai Peninsula, and that between 5,000 and 10,000 of them did not survive their ordeal. Yonathan Habte*, 28, is among those who survived. He left Eritrea in March 2012 and was kidnapped from Shagarab refugee camp near Kassala a few weeks later. He had been warned about the threat of kidnappers in eastern Sudan but thought he would be safe in the camp. In fact, by 2012 UNHCR was recording about 30 kidnappings a week in and around eastern Sudan’s refugee camps.
Habte told IRIN how he had been collecting firewood one morning when three vehicles entered the camp, and he and two other men were grabbed. His kidnappers took him and 30 other Eritreans to Egypt, where they were divided between several traffickers operating torture camps near the Israeli border. “They made us call home to our families two or three times a day, and every time they beat us up so our families heard us screaming,” he said.
After his family had paid a ransom of US$3,500, Habte was sold to another trafficker, who demanded $30,000 for his release. At the second camp, the torture intensified. Habte and 12 other hostages, including three women, one of whom was pregnant, were beaten constantly and hung up by their ankles or wrists for hours at a time.
While on the phone to their friends and relatives, molten plastic was dripped on their skin so their screams would ensure the ransom money was paid as quickly as possible. Meron Estefanos, an Eritrean journalist and activist living in Stockholm, Sweden, has been listening to the screams of Eritrean refugees held hostage in Sudan and Egypt for three years. During a weekly radio programme she takes calls from the refugees and their relatives, and broadcasts these to listeners. In 2012, she received a phone call from her cousin, who had been kidnapped near Kassala and taken into Sinai. Her captors were demanding $37,000 for her release.
“If you’re listening to your cousin being gang-raped or burnt – the cries, the begging… you just want to end those phone calls,” Estefanos told IRIN. “So I collected the money [from friends and relatives] and borrowed some.” But, after the traffickers released her cousin, she was arrested by Egyptian soldiers and held in a prison in Sinai for seven months. “At first we didn’t know where she was,” said Estefanos. “We thought [the traffickers] had killed her. It took four months to find her.” The Human Rights Watch report says it is common for recently released trafficking victims to be arrested by Egyptian border police and detained for many months at police stations in northern Sinai until they can pay their airfare to Eritrea or Ethiopia. “Egyptian authorities, in effect, hold the victims of trafficking hostage a second time, subjecting them to indefinite and arbitrary detention until their relatives can produce the money for the air ticket, which secures their release and removal from Egypt,” the report says.
Detainees are denied access to adequate medical care for their injuries and asylum-seeking procedures. Estefanos paid for her cousin’s flight to Ethiopia, where she finally received treatment for severe burns and now lives in a refugee camp.
Survivors disappear in Sinai
By the time Habte was released, he was in a critical condition but evaded arrest and was carried across the border into Israel by fellow Eritrean refugees. Doctors in Israel saved his life but could not save his hands, which require advanced reconstructive surgery he could not pay for. Israel has since completed a fence that virtually seals its border with Egypt. In 2013, only 36 irregular migrants were intercepted while trying to cross into Israel from Egypt, compared to over 10,000 in 2012, before the fence was erected. In 2013 the Egyptian military also launched an offensive against Islamic militants in northern Sinai, which has continued into 2014.
The human rights activists report released in December 2013, which Estefanos co-authored, suggests that the sealing off of escape routes into Israel and the military campaign in the Sinai desert have resulted in increasing numbers of trafficking victims disappearing and presumably dying following the payment of a ransom and their release. A by-product of the military campaign appears to have been the destruction of many of the houses used by traffickers to hold their victims, although Simpson of HRW and Estefanos both say this was not a stated aim of the operation. “At one point, they rescued about 150 hostages, who were chained with each other, only to put them in prison and deport them,” said Estefanos. “I have pictures of the houses where hostages were held, copies of [ransom] payments, but they [Egyptian authorities] never approached me to ask for that evidence… they’ve never been interested.”
Since the military crackdown in Sinai started, Estefanos has received more calls about Eritreans being held for ransom in Sudan than in Egypt. “Some are still being taken to Sinai, but it has become more difficult now because of the military operation.” Meanwhile, increasing numbers of Eritreans are avoiding Egypt and Israel, and trying to reach Europe via Libya instead, risking treacherous desert and Mediterranean crossings. Italy recently released figures showing that nearly 10,000 Eritreans reached its shores in 2013, a 400 percent increase from the previous year. Of the more than 350 migrants who drowned when their boat sank off the coast of Lampedusa Island in October 2013, most were Eritreans and, according to Estefanos, 12 were survivors of torture camps in Sinai. In its report, Human Rights Watch accuses both Sudan and Egypt of failing to take action to stop the trafficking and abuse of Eritrean refugees.
However, Chiara Cardoletti-Carroll, the UNHCR assistant representative in Sudan, argued that in 2013 the Sudanese government took a number of important steps to prevent kidnappings and prosecute traffickers, including endorsing a joint initiative by UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to combat trafficking. She noted that the deployment of a rapid emergency force outside the refugee camps near Kassala, and increased policing around the camps, had successfully deterred traffickers. “We have not had a single kidnapping incident out of the eastern camps since February 2013,” she told IRIN, adding that trafficking cases reported to UNHCR through its victim counselling services had also gone down significantly. She confirmed that the routes used by Eritrean refugees had changed, with more heading to Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, which has become a jumping-off point for Libya. Khartoum is now becoming a “hot spot” for smugglers and traffickers. Regional cooperation on the issue, particularly between Sudan and Egypt, is still lacking. “On this front, I feel there’s a long way to go,” said Cardoletti-Carroll.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]
Report: By KRISTY SIEGFRIED
Usual as it has been in the past twenty or so years, four Oromo refugees have been arrested or kidnapped in Nairobi, Kenya on the first of this month of February, 2014, and taken to an unknown destination. Below is an URGENT ACTION issued by the HRLHA regarding the current situation around the lives and whereabouts of the four Oromos who have been taken away by Kenyan Security agents:
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) expresses its deep concern regarding the safety of four Oromo refugees from Ethiopia who were arbitrarily arrested by Kenyan anti-terrorist squad from Isili area in Nairobi on different dates of operations and taken to unknown destinations.
According to information obtained through HRLHA correspondent in Nairobi, Mr. Tumsa Roba Katiso, (UNHCR attestation File#: NETH033036/1) was arrested by members of Kenyan anti-terrorist squad, who arrived at the scene in two vehicles, on February 1, 2014 at around 10:00 AM from 2nd Street in the Isili locality in Nairobi on his way home from shopping. The other three refugees, Mr. Chala Abdalla, Mr. Namme Abdalla, and the third person whose name is not known yet were picked up from their home which is located in the same Isli area in Nairobi, Kenya on February 3, 2014 by members of the same anti-terrorist squad of Kenyan. The whereabouts of those Ethiopian-Oromo refugees is unknown until the time of compilation of this urgent action.
The HRLHA is highly suspicious that those Ethiopian-Oromo refugees might have been deported to Ethiopia. And, in case those Ethiopian-Oromo refugees have been deported, the Ethiopian Government has a well-documented record of gross and flagrant violations of human rights, including the torturing of its own citizens who were involuntarily returned to the country. The government of Ethiopia routinely imprisons such persons and sentences them to up to life in prison, and often impose death penalty. There have been credible reports of physical and psychological abuses committed against individuals in Ethiopian official prisons and other unofficial or secret detention centres. Under Article 33 (1) of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (189 U.N.T.S. 150), to which Kenya is a party, “[n]o contracting state shall expel or forcibly return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his . . . political opinion.” This obligation, which is also a principle of customary international law, applies to both asylum seekers and refugees, as affirmed by UNHCR’s Executive Committee and the United Nations General Assembly. By deporting the four refugees and others, the Kenyan Government will be breaching its obligations under international treaties as well as customary law.
- Under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1465 U.N.T.S. 185) to which Kenya acceded in 1997, Kenya has an obligation not to return a person to a place where they face torture or ill-treatment. Article 3 of the Convention against Torture provides:
No state party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another state where there are substantial grounds to believe that they would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights. We strongly urge the government of Kenya to respect the international treaties and obligations it has signed
The Kenyan Government is well known for handing over refugees to the Ethiopian Government by violating the above mentioned international obligations. It is very disheartening to recall that Engneer Tesfahun Chemeda, who died on August 24, 2013 in Ethiopia’s grand jail of Kaliti due to torture that was inflicted on him in that jail, was handed over to the Ethiopian Government Security Agents in 2007 by the Kenyan Government.
Tesfahun Chemeda was arrested by the Kenyan anti-terrorist forces, along with his close friend called Mesfin Abebe, in 2007 in Nairobi, Kenya, where both were living as refugees since 2005; and later deported to Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Government detained them in an underground jail in a military camp for over one year, during which time they were subjected to severe torture and other types of inhuman treatments until when they were taken to court and changed with terrorism offences in December 2008. They were eventually sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2010. (Mesfin’s death sentence was later commuted.)
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) is highly concerned about the safety and security of the above listed refugees who were recently arrested by the Kenyan anti-terrorist forces; and for those who are still living in Kenya. It urges the government of Kenya to respect the international treaties and obligations, and unconditionally release the arrested refugees, and refrain from handing over to the government of Ethiopia where they would definitely face torture and maximum punishments. It also urges all human rights agencies (local, regional and international) to join the HRLHA and condemn these illegal and inhuman acts of the Kenyan Government against defenseless refugees. HRLHA requests the governments of the Western countries as well as international organizations to interfere in this matter so that the safety and security of the arrested refugees and those refugees currently staying in Kenya could be ensured.
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) has issued a press release regarding the most recent violent and extrajudicial actions against the Oromo Nationals in southern part of the regional state of Oromia. Below is the full text of the press release:
In the past twenty two years, the peoples of Ethiopian and the outside world have witnessed the EPRDF Government’s incarceration of hundreds of thousands of Oromo Nationals from all walks of life in jails, unofficial detention centres and concentration camps simply for allegedly being members or supporters of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), whom the ruling party has deemed a terrorist group, and some other opposition political organizations. Due to the inappropriate and inhuman treatments by the government security members, hundreds of Oromos died, suffered from physical disabilities resulting from tortures, and most of those who were taken to court were given harsh sentences including life in prison and capital punishments or death penalty. Oromo intellectuals, Businessmen, and the members of legally operating Oromo parties (for example the Oromo People`s Congress (OPC) and Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM)) have been among the victims of the EPRDF/TPLF Government’s suppressive political system. The most worrisome is that the Oromo youth, who were even born after the EPRDF/TPLF government came to power, have become the major victims of the Government’s brutalities under the same allegations of supporting and/or sympathizing with Oromo opposition political organizations. In the past decade or so, thousands of young Oromo students of universities, colleges, high schools and intermediate academic institutions have been criminalized for allegedly being member or sympathizers of the Oromo Libration Front. A lot of them have killed, tortured, and thousands are still languishing behind bars, while thousands others have been banned from being part of any level of educational opportunities; and, as a result, have became jobless, homeless, etc. Tenth of thousands have fled their homeland and become refugees in neighboring countries.
In the same manner and for the same reasons, the most recent cases of arrests and imprisonments have taken place in Gujjii Zone of Oromia State. According to the HRLHA’s informant in Gujii, more than 45 Oromo nationals have been arrested by the Federal police forces without court warrant at different times since August 25, 2013 to December 2013. This was mainly in the districts of Gorodolo, Girja and Bore of Guji Zone. Most of the victims of these most recent extrajudicial actions have reportedly been taken a detention centre in Negele Town. Victims of this particular operation include members of the legally operating opposition Oromo political party of the Federalist Congress (OFC), as well as high school teachers, students of elementary and high schools, college and university students in various parts of the Guji Zone.
According to reports obtained by HRLHA, on August 25, 2013, the federal police arrested 8 college students from Harekello Town in Goro-Dola destrict; and on the following day, police searched houses of many residents of the town without court warrant, and arrested another 3 more people. Among them was a high school teacher called Gobena Gemeda. The alleged reason for the arrest, detention, and search of homes in this particular campaign was the distribution and posting of leaflets in the town with contents condemning the discrimination of the government against the Guji Oromos. Among those who were arrested and detained, 6 people, including kedir A/bundha, Gobena Gemeda and Shako Bura were released after a week; while the following five students are still in detention center in Negele Prison, according to the information HRLHA has obtained.
||Negele Vocational college
||Ardayita Agricultural College
||Negele Health College
The legally registered Oromo Federalist Congress ( OFC) officials and cadres, who were genuinely working for their people on behalf of their party, were also accused of allegedly being sympathizers of Oromo Libration Front (OLF) and arrested in Adolla town in Gujii and in Bule Hora district of Borana Zone. Among them was Mr. Borama Jano, elected parliament member from the districts of Bore and Anna-Sorra. He was arrested on November 15, 2013, and is still detained at Adolla Police Station. Two OFC organizing cadres – Mr Hirbaayyee Galgalo and Uturaa Adulaa – were arrested in Bulehora Wereda of Borena Zone in December 2013.
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) expresses its deep concern over the safety and well-being of these Oromo nationals who have been picked up arbitrarily from different places at different times and are being held at various detention centers. The Ethiopian government has a well-documented record of gross and flagrant violations of human rights, including the torturing of its own citizens who were suspected of supporting, sympathizing with and/or being members of the opposition political organizations. There have been credible reports of physical and psychological abuses committed against individuals in Ethiopian official prisons and other secret detention centers.
The HRLHA calls upon the Ethiopia Government to refrain from systematically eliminating the young generation of Oromo nationals and respect all international human rights standards in general, and of civil and political rights of the citizens it has signed in particular. HRLHA demands that the Ethiopian Government unconditionally release those most recent as well as other political detainees.
HRLHA also calls upon governments of the West, all local, regional and international human rights agencies to join hands and demand the immediate halt of such kinds of extra-judicial actions against one’s own citizens, and release the detainees without any preconditions.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to the Ethiopian Government and its concerned government ministries and/or officials as swiftly as possible, both in English and Ahmaric, or your own language:
- Expressing concerns regarding the apprehension and fear of torture of the citizens who are being held in different detention centers including the infamous Ma’ikelawi Central Investigation Office; and calling for their immediate and unconditional release;
- Requesting to refrain from detaining, harassing, discriminating against Oromo the Nationals
- Urging the Ethiopian authorities to ensure that these detainees would be treated in accordance with the regional and international standards on the treatment of prisoners
- Also send your concerns to diplomatic representatives in Ethiopia who are accredited to your country.
We, the leadership of the Human Rights League of Horn of Africa (HRLHA), would like to express that we are deeply saddened by the passing away of our African hero and freedom icon Mr. Nelson Mandela, also known as Madiba especially among his funs and lovers. It is everyone’s belief that this icon of freedom, although he is peacefully departing, has left behind an everlasing legacies of hope for the better future, perseverance in the struggle for equality, justice and dignity for all human beings as well as forgiveness. We could say that not only the South Africans but also the rest of African and other global communities are better off because of his priceless sacrifices, democratic achievements, spirits of hope, forgiveness, peace, harmony, and overall human dignity. HRLHA believes that those of us at all ages and genenrations who are staying behind are expected to take lessons from his legacies and carry on the torch of freedom that this freedom icon has ignited from where he has left it, and make Africa a much better place where political differences are settled through roundtable discussions, negotiations, and reconciliations, and policies are framed based on respect for human rights.
As the biography of Madiba clearly shows, he stood firm for the equal rights of all people. For that stance, he stood unyielding and he was charged with treason by the apartheid South African government, spending 27 years of his life in prison. Madiba, among other things, is always remembered for forgiving those who extra-judiciarily imprisoned him and inhumanly treated along with other South Africans, despite being forced to spend this many years in harsh prison conditions. Madiba forgave those who not only punished him without a crime, but also who categorized hundreds of thousands of other fellow South Africans as subhuman and condemned thems down to destitution and all forms of socio-economic crises by dispossessing and ditaching them from natural resources such as land. We the leadership of HRLHA see that Madiba lived and departed as a hero and a greet leader. As a hero, he stood up for human dignity and equality; and, as a result, he paid unparallelled sacrifices. when he was elected as a president, he made tremendous efforts to deliver justice for all and as an “angel” he promoted reconciliation between the people who were extremely divided based on racial and colour differences. He forgave those who cruelly treated him and his fellow South Africans for refusing to accept racial discrimination and subordination. Madiba’s achievements during most of his lifetime left a clear message for the people of Africa and the world – that all human beings are equal. In his life and departure, Madiba taught especially the younger generation about the need for perseverance, hope and forgiveness.
The causes of instability in Africa and in the world in most cases have political differences that generate from racial motives. In one of his famous speeches, Mandela said, “no one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Promoting racial , cultural, or national superiority, or simply advancing a monolithic view is contrary to human rights principles; and always instigates violence and instability. In its turn, violence and instability consume our human and natural resources; and hinder us from achieving our potential. The African and world communities need to follow the lessons from of our hero – Madiba- and focus on teaching our children as to how to unlearn the views that they have learned- and to refute racial, cultural, and/or national superiority theories and practices.
Instability that has been ravaging the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia and Uganda) is driven by thories of racial, cultural, national, and clan superiority. For example, the Ethiopian land leasing policy, also referred to as a land-grab, which has evicted thousands of people from their homes, is driven by the longstanding colonial concept of terra-nullius – the land belonging to no one. Most of the political prisoners in Ethiopia and the refugees in the neighbouring Horn of African countries who fled that country and, some of them perishing in the Red Sea, the Mediterranean Ocean and the Sahara and Sinai deserts are Oromos who have been conditioned by the racial superiority theories of the ruling Tigrian regime. Most of the political prisoners who are languishing in Ethiopian prisons did nothing wrong except that they asked for respect for their individual and collective rights, and those of others.
In the past and present in darkness in the tropical forests of Africa, people oriented themselves by the “star” in the sky – Venus -Bakalcha. Mandela, the freedom icon, has established the norm by which African and global leaders should function. Just as the planet Venus has shone and given directions for millions of years, the life of this freedom icon should guide present and future African leaders. Democracy, human rights, social justice and reconciliation should be the motto and the leading ideology. Using this opportunity, we call upon the peoples in the Horn of Africa, especially the youth, to harness the ideas and ideologies for which the freedom icon – Madiba stood and challenge ideas and ideologies that are contrary to the principles of human rights, social justice and equality.
We would like to end this note with the wise words of Nelson Mandela, who said, “I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man”. Let us celebrate the legacy of the freedom icon by detesting all forms of racism – whether or not it is based on skin color, culture or religion; and stand up firmly and strongly for human rights, human dignity, and equality.
Human Rights Leage of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA)
(URJII ONLINE) -
They speak of democracy, but act violently to suppress dissenting voices and control the people through the inculcation of fear: they ignore human rights and trample on the people, they are a tyrannical wolf in democratic sheep’s clothing, causing suffering and misery to thousands of people throughout Ethiopia. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government repeatedly scoffs at international law and consistently acts in violation of their own Federal constitution – a liberal document written by the regime to please and deceive their foreign supporters. They have enacted laws of repression: the widely condemned Charities and Societies (ATD) law (CSO law) and the Anti Terrorism Declaration, which is the main tool of political control, together with the ‘Mass Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation’ they form a formidable unjust arsenal of government control. Freedom of the media (which is largely ‘state-owned’) is denied and political dissent is all but outlawed.
Against this repressive backdrop, the Semayawi (Blue) party, a new opposition group, organized peaceful protests on the 2nd June in Addis Ababa. Ten thousand or so people marched through the capital demanding the release of political prisoners, “respect for the constitution” and Justice! Justice! Justice! It was (Reuters 2/06/2013 reported), an “anti-Government procession…. the first large-scale protest since a disputed 2005 election ended in street violence that killed 200 people”, a ‘disputed election’ result that was discredited totally by European Union observers and denounced by opposition groups and large swathes of the population.
The Chairman of the Semayawi Party, Yilekal Getachew, told Reuters, “We have repeatedly asked the government to release political leaders, journalists and those who asked the government not to intervene in religious affairs”. In keeping with the recent worldwide movement for freedom and social justice, he stated that, “if these questions are not resolved and no progress is made in the next three months, we will organize more protests. It is the beginning of our struggle”. To the disappointment of many and the surprise of nobody, the government has made no attempt to ‘resolve’ the questions raised, and true to their word a second demonstration was planned for 1st September in Addis Ababa. In the event, as the BBC report, around “100 members of Ethiopia’s opposition Semayawi (Blue) party were arrested and some badly beaten”, and “equipment such as sound systems were confiscated”, ahead of the planned rally, which was banned by the EPRDF. Government justification formed, and a cock and bull story was duly constructed with Communication Minister Shimeles Kemal stating “the venue [for Semayawi’s event) had already been booked by a pro-government group condemning religious extremism”.
Non-interference in religious affairs is one of the key demands of the Semayawi party, a demand based upon the constitutional commitment of religious independence from the State, which Muslim groups claim the government has violated. Enraged by government interference in all matters religious, the Muslim community have organised regular small-scale protests and sit-ins in the capital for the last two years. In early August, Reuters 8/08/2013 reported “Demonstrators chanted "Allahu Akbar" and hoisted banners that read "respect the constitution", referring to allegations that the government has tried to influence the highest Muslim affairs body, the Ethiopia Islamic Affairs Supreme Council”. Around 40% of Ethiopia’s population (around 85 million) are Muslim, for generations they have lived amicably with their Orthodox Christians neighbours, who make up the majority in the country; they are moderate in their beliefs and peaceful in their ways. The EPRDF in contrast are violent, intolerant and ideologically driven; ‘Revolutionary Democracy’ being the particular tune to which the democratic dictatorship hums and drums its partisan rule.
The government’s response to the peaceful demonstrations, has unsurprisingly been intolerant and dismissive; their comments inflammatory and predictable, stating Mail@Guardian 14/07/2013 record, "most of these demonstrators are Islamic extremists”, and showing their own ‘extreme’ tendencies, authoritively declaring that “the protesters aimed to set up an Islamic state in the country and were bankrolled and guided by "extremists" [this time] overseas”. Duplicitous nonsense, which serves to distract attention from the underlying issues being raised and the imperative (and legal requirement) for the government to act in accordance with its own constitution.
Along with such disingenuous comments the regime has responded to the protests in a repressive manner; imprisoning Muslims calling for justice, causing Amnesty International 8/08/2013 to be “extremely concerned at reports coming out of Ethiopia… of further widespread arrests of Muslim protesters”, Amnesty demand that the “on-going repressive crackdown on freedom of speech and the right to peacefully protest has to end now”. Despite the fact that the protests have been peaceful and good-natured the regime has consistently described the protesters as violent terrorists, in February the ‘Holy War Movement’ was shown on State Television, it presented protestors and those arrested (including journalists), as terrorists. And in a clear violation of people’s constitutional right to protest, the regime has threatened to take firm action against further protests.
Whilst the majority of actions during the last two years have been without incident, protests in Kofele in the Oromia region on 8th August ended in “the deaths of an unconfirmed number”, there have also been reports of large numbers of people being arrested in Kofele and Addis Ababa, including two journalists. Following the Kofele deaths Amnesty called for “an immediate, independent and impartial investigation into the events in Kofele, as well as into the four incidents last year which resulted in the deaths and injuries of protestors”. Legitimate demands which the regime has duly ignored.
The EPRDF does not tolerate any independent media coverage within the country and indeed does all it can to control the flow of information out of Ethiopia and restrict totally dissenting voices. And they don’t care who the journalist is working for, key allies or diaspora media; In October 2012 a reporter from the Voice of America (VOA) covering a protest in Anwar Mosque in Addis was arrested and told to erase her recorded interviews, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report. This was not the first time a VOA journalist had been detained. “They are criminalizing journalism,” said Martin Schibbye a Swedish freelance journalist who was jailed [in 2011] along with a colleague for more than 14 months in Ethiopia”, for entering the Ogaden region. A heavily militarized area where wide ranging human rights violations constituting crimes against humanity are taking place, which has been hidden from the International media and aid organisations since 2007. Fearing imprisonment, many journalists have left Ethiopia, CPJ report that in 2012, along with Eritrea, it was were Africa’s ‘top jailer’ of journalists”, coming in eighth worldwide.
Unjust Laws of Control
In July last year, hundreds of protesting Muslims peacefully demanding that the government stop interfering in their religious affairs and allow them to vote freely for representatives on the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC). Most were released, but 29 members of the protest committee were charged on 29th October under the universally criticized Anti Terrorist Declaration (ATD), accused of “intending to advance a political, religious or ideological cause” by force, and the “planning, preparation, conspiracy, incitement and attempt of terrorist acts.” Their arrest has been slammed by human rights groups as well as the United States Commission on religious Freedom, who “are deeply concerned that Ethiopia’s government is seeking to silence peaceful religious freedom proponents by detaining and trying them in secret under trumped-up terrorism charges. They should be released now and their trials halted”. The men claim to have been “tortured and experienced other ill-treatment in detention”.
The ambiguous ATD was introduced in 2009 and has been used by the Ethiopian government, “to severely restrict basic rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly”, Human Rights Watch (HRW) state. It violates dues process, which like a raft of other internationally recognized and legally binding rights, is enshrined in the Ethiopian constitution. The legislation cause outrage amongst human rights groups and the right minded when it was proposed. HRW (30/06/2009) said of the draft law, (which un-amended found its way onto the statute books) that it would “permit the government to repress a wide range of internationally protected freedoms”, – precisely the reason for it’s introduction, and it provides “the Ethiopian government with a potent instrument to crack down on political dissent, including peaceful political demonstrations and public criticisms of government policy”.
The unjust law allows for long-tem imprisonment and the death penalty for so called crimes that meet some EPRDF definition of terrorism, and denies in some cases a defendants right to be presumed innocent – the bedrock of the international judicial system. Torture is used without restraint by the military and police, under the ATD evidence obtained whilst a prisoner is being beaten, hanged, whipped or drowned is admissible in court, this criminal act contravenes Article 15 of the United Nations Convention against Torture (ratified by Ethiopia in 1994), which ‘requires that any statement made as a result of torture is inadmissible as evidence’. Terrorism is indeed an issue of grave concern in Ethiopia, it is not rooted in the Muslim community, the media, the Blue Party or the Universities, it is State Terrorism that stalks this land, that kills and falsely imprisons, tortures and rapes the innocent, it is the EPRDF; the rebel group that ousted a communist dictator in 1991 only to take up his tyrannical mantle, who manipulate the law to serve their repressive rule and who violates a plethora of human rights, consistently and with impunity. Ethiopia’s donors and international friends, (primarily America and Britain) have other, larger fish on their minds, and even though they give the country over a third of its federal budget they seem unconcerned by the criminality being committed, much of which is taking place under the cloak of development. Violent rule however is a storm that is imploding throughout the world, the people, who have suffered long enough, sense their collective strength and are awakening.
Need for Unity
Although completely contrary to the EPRDF’s pledge of Ethnic Federalism, divide and rule is the effective methodology of division employed by the regime. In a country with dozens of tribal groups, various ethnicities and different religious beliefs (Islam and Christianity), unity is the key to any popular social revolution, much needed and ardently longed for by millions throughout the land. We are witnessing a worldwide protest movement for change; age-old values of freedom, equality and social justice, brotherhood and peace are the clarion call of many marching and protesting. And so it is in Ethiopia, the Blue party and other opposition groups, the Muslim community and the students on the streets demanding Justice! Justice! Jusitce! are in harmony with the rhythm of the times. Out of step and blind to the needs of the people and their rightful demands, the ruling party acts with violence to drown out their voices and suppress their rights: in Addis Ababa, where thousands marched in June, in Oromia and the Ogaden, where the people seek autonomy, in Amhara, where thousands have been displaced, in Gambella and the Lower Omo Valley, where native people are being driven off their ancestral land into state created villages, women raped and men beaten.
Unity is the song of the day, rich with diversity united in intent, the collective will of the people of Ethiopia and indeed throughout the world is an unstoppable force for change. All steps need to be taken to remove the obstacle to the realization of unity throughout the country, ethnic prejudices and tribal differences; all need to be laid aside. The Ethiopian regime may succeed in subduing the movement for change that is simmering throughout the country, however with sustained unified action, peacefully undertaken and relentlessly expressed, freedom and social justice, longed for by millions throughout the country, will surely come.
Author: GRAHAM PEEBLES
Source: Counterpunch Online
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The world tour underway by two Oromo nationals under the title “I AM OROMO, FIRST” was convened in Toronto, Canada over the weekend. The
- Some of the Participants of the Convention
convention that was held on Saturday, September 28, 2013 at Toronto Plaza Hotel attracted hundreds of Oromos of all ages, religions, and political backgrounds living in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) in Canada. Of the two Oromo nationals who are engaged in the world tour – Obbo Jawar Mohammed and Obbo Mohammed Ademo – Obbo Jawar was present at the Toronto convention, although Obbo Mohammed Ademo was not able to make it due to some personal issues.
In an invigorating socio-political atmosphere, all points of discussion by participants revolved around the Oromo identity and its homeland – Oromia, and the responsibilities of the present generation in general and the Oromo youth in particular in promoting the two underlying concepts were underscored at the convention. In his address to the participants, Obbo Jawar Mohammed elaborated on the phases that the Oromo national struggle has so far gone through, and the remaining phases that need to be completed. Obbo Jawar broke down the four phases as revival, reconstruction, institutionalization, and empowerment. Revival and reconstruction in most cases being the two phases that followed the subjugation of the Oromos by the Abyssinian rule, and were more of the restoration of the Oromo self, identity, cultural and psychological makeup that were damaged as the result of all the socio-cultural, historical and political destructions. But, Obbo Jawar’s focus was on the institutionalization and empowerment of the Oromos as individuals, as a society, and as a nation, both of which were described by Obbo Jawar as the responsibilities of the Oromo youth in particular.
- Obbo Jawar Mohammed
Obbo Mohammed Ademo, who addressed the participants over the telephone, brought up the idea of launching Oromo independent media and briefly talked about its significance by relating it to the current time of the Information Era. Obbo Jawar further elaborated on this project of launching Oromo’s own independent media, which is already underway. The Oromos at the convention, who applauded and welcomed the idea, started pledging financial supports right away.
The “I AM OROMO, FIRST” world tour, which made its tenth stop at Toronto, is expected to continue and take place in the same way in other parts of the world where there are Oromo communities.
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The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) has reported that hundreds of thousands of refugees in Libya, most of whom were from the Horn of African countries such as Sudan, Ethiopian and Eritrea, are in a very dangerous situation after they were evicted from their original refugee camps in Benghazi, Libya where they stayed for the past three years. The eviction took place following the infiltration and assault of the refugees by who were described as workers of the Libyan Red Crescent on the 15th of September, 2013. According to the report by HRLHA, the assault included stabbings by knifes. Those who broke out of the shelters to run away from the assaults were met with armed forces that were stationed around the camps prior to the starting of the assault. Then, the refugees were forced out of the camp on allegations that they attempted to instigate disturbances in the city, and taken to a remote area known as Alshatti.
According to HRLH, about 500 refugees are now held in what was known to be a private detention centre in Alshatti with no adequate supply of basic necessities. HRLHA has also reported that the very adverse weather condition in Alshatti has worsened the situation to the refugees. Even two expecting women who delivered after arriving in Alshatti and their newly born infants were not treated differently, according to HRLHA. The fact that the refugees are now held in isolation where they are not visited by international agencies like the UN High Commission for Refugees and the ICRC, as they used to when they were sheltered in Benghazi, added to the very unfriendly living condition has raised their frustrations. The refugees who were contacted by HRLHA also mention that there have been detachments and disconnections among refugees who had acquaintances and/or relationships with each other. Most of the refugees who were taken to Alshatti are originally from Ethiopia and Eritrea, HRLHA added.
HRLHA has expressed its concerns regarding the safety and future fates of those refugees in such an isolated and disconnected socio-political environment; and therefore, has called up on the Libyan Government to first of all ensure the safety and well being of the refugees by providing full protection against any kind of attacks from any side or angle.
- The march to the river for cleansing
Oromos in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and other cities in Ontario and other parts of Canada warmly celebrated this year’s Irrecha Holiday yesterday, August 31, 2013 in the suburb of Whitby, a typical countryside environment that closely resembled that of Oromia. The 2013 Irrecha of Toronto has also attracted some Oromos from cities like Washington D.C and New York, from across the border in USA. There were also visitors from Germany.
As usual, this year’s Irrecha celebration in Toronto included ceremonies such as dhibaayyuu or sacrifice, cleansing or cuphaa, hulluuqqoo and darraa-gubaa or firework. Irrechaa, which is often described by anthropologists as “The Channel to God”, in all its senses is equivalent of what the Westerners call and celebrate as “Thanks Giving”. Particularly the “Dhibayyuu” part of the Irrecha ceremony is the part that signifies the saying “Thank you” to God aspect of the Holiday. Oromos of all religions, ages and gender join each other in celebrating Irrecha. Some video clips on this year’s Irrecha in GTA could be watched at: http://youtu.be/s1h7SqVOiE0, http://youtu.be/Dhu4cOxYKRA, http://youtu.be/_Q98Xw-SrDo
- The components of "dhibaayyuu": cuukkoo, buna-qalaa and itittuu/aannan
- Firewood displayed for sale at a rural marketplace in countryside Ethiopia
A year after the death of former Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi, hopes for change in the African country remain bleak, including for local aid groups struggling to cope with a wide range of restrictions over their work. The Ethiopian government passed in 2009 a law that restricted NGO fundraising activities and operations, and imposed stricter requirements for registration, like asking charities and civil society organizations to secure a letter of recommendation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Four years later and with the dictator out of the picture, the law remains a burden to aid groups, whose numbers have decreased since. Prior to 2009, there were reportedly some 3,822 registered civil society organizations in Ethiopia, but today there are no more than 1,500, according to a local aid official. In fact, the official told Devex the situation for NGOs has “worsened” under the current regime.
A year later, sources inside the country note the government of current Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has failed to make it easier for these organizations to do their job. “The majority of Ethiopian local NGOs are in depression” due to limited funds and registration difficulties, noted the official. Many groups depend heavily on a small pool of foreign donors. And the Charities and Societies Agency, created in 2009 to regulate CSO activities, implements according to this source “double standards” during registration, being more welcoming to NGOs that support the ruling party. “Some optimists hoped that with new leadership the Ethiopian government would change track and carry out human rights reforms, including amending the abusive CSO and anti-terrorism laws,” Laetitia Bader, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Devex. “Disappointingly, instead we see much the same patterns on the human rights front — including large scale arrests of peaceful protestors and prosecution of dissenting voices.”
But what seemed to particularly upset the local official is that donors do not seem to be helping to ease these restrictions on CSOs. For instance, the official finds British support to build the capacity of the CSA as helping the government weaken the CSO sector: “DFID [is] repeatedly helping the Agency while civil society [is] in crisis.” The U.K. Department for International Development has a program whose aims include improving the dialogue between the government and civil society sector, and bridging the gap between the two. The program began in 2010, a year after the NGO law was passed, and eventually included capacity building for CSA to meet the program’s objective.
But an annual review of the program concluded in November 2012 noted: “CSO perception of a conducive political and legal environment is not improving; the Agency database is neither publicly accessible nor currently up to date; federal-regional cooperation is not moving forward (to our knowledge); Agency understanding of the civil society sector is not improving (partly due to high staff turnover); and the guidelines and regulations have only received a very minor amendment due to pressure from CSOs and DPs.”
This is not the first time that DfID has been subject to criticism over its work in Ethiopia. The agency made headlines last year following its alleged plans to use part of its foreign aid budget for Ethiopia to train a police force accused of committing human rights abuses. DfID has dismissed the issue. Bader said: “We are concerned about any approach to the CSO law that is based on negotiating individual exemptions or waivers. This just allows the government to cherry-pick agencies, which completely undermines freedom of association. The law violates Ethiopia’s constitution and international human rights standards and needs to be amended; without fundamental changes it will be impossible to achieve a significant improvement in the working environment for NGOs.” Michael Shiferaw, communications officer for the Civil Society Support Program, which is managed by the British Council in Ethiopia and is also receiving some criticism, noted they are aware of these concerns, sometimes perhaps due to some misunderstanding or miscommunication. “We try to bridge the gap between what the agency does and what CSOs in general are doing by finding a common ground,” he told Devex. These realities are not helping address the country’s multiple problems, such as unemployment, high cost of living and corruption.
While the current regime may be trying to reach that by trying to improve infrastructure, many see this dream as far-fetched. “It looks like an illusion … still we are in agrarian society and majority of rural areas are food insecure … When [I] go to rural Ethiopia, I consider myself as if we are living in inhuman way of life,” explained the official. “For example, I was born from farmers family [and they are still] depending on me. I monthly send [them money]. If I keep quit even for one month, they can’t exist.”
Source: International Development News, www.devex.com
- Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda
Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda, a political prisoner and prisoner of conscience, has died in Ethiopia’s infamous jail of Kaliti. According to a report by the human rights agency Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA), Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda, an Oromo national who had been in prison since April, 2007, died on 24th of August, 2013 in Kaliti Penitentiary due to severe and repeated tortures inflicted on him at different detention centers during his imprisonment in the past six years. HRLHA has also reported that denial of medical treatments has highly contributed to Engineer Chamada’s death. Engineer Tasfahun Chemeda was one of the 15 Oromo nationals who were sentenced to life in prison in 2010 by the Ethiopian court simply for holding a political belief different from that of the ruling EPRDF/TPLF party and the government of Ethiopia.
Engeener Tesfahun Chemeda, was handed over to Ethiopian security agents by the Kenyan authorities in April 2007 from Nairobi, Kenya where he was living as a refugee after being granted the (refugee) status from UNHCR. He fled his homeland to escape persecution by the Government of Ethiopia. Although it falls on deaf ears in most cases, such are the reasons why human rights organizations like HRLHA strongly oppose to deportations of refugees back to their countries of origin particularly when their cases involve political issues.
HRLHA in its report has strongly condemned the inhuman treatments and atrocious torture that the Ethiopian Government is inflicting against its own citizens and holds the Government accountable systematically subjecting Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda to death through persistent torture and denial of medical treatment while in prison “… in violation of the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which Ethiopia has signed and ratified in 1994”.
According to HRLHA, by handing over Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda and other Oromo refugees back to the Ethiopian Government, the Kenya Government is breaching its obligations under international treaties as well as customary laws, and therefore shares accountability in the death of Engineer Chemeda.
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa has called up on the Ethiopian authorities to immediately conduct an independent investigation into the death of Engineer Tesfahun Chamada, including the roles torture and denial of medical treatment have played in his death, and disclose the findings to the public. It has also demand that those who were found responsible be brought to justice.
URJII publishers would like to extend their condolences to the families and friends of Engineer Tefahun Chemeda while they are mourning his loss as a result of injustice.